Furman receives $500K gift for poverty studies program

TRAVELERS REST, S.C. — Furman University officials announced today that a Furman trustee and his wife have made a $500,000 gift that will create an endowment to support the university’s popular and innovative Poverty Studies program.

The gift comes from Alec and Susan Taylor of Charleston.  Alec Taylor is a 1975 Furman graduate and has been a member of the university’s Board of Trustees since 2012.

“We have been fortunate in our lives to work with wonderful organizations that are doing meaningful work supporting families and communities,” the Taylors said.  “The work Furman is doing with the Poverty Studies program and the young people it is guiding demonstrates the university’s commitment to serve as advocates for social justice and to support vulnerable people locally and beyond. We are proud to assist Furman in this important work.”

With approximately 90 students expected to be enrolled in the program by the end of this academic year, Poverty Studies, which explores the effects and causes of poverty and its potential solutions is by far the largest minor, and is larger than almost all of Furman’s 47 majors.

The endowment created by the Taylors’ gift will primarily support the minor’s extensive summer internship program.  In addition to taking six courses, each Poverty Studies minor is required to complete a summer internship of at least eight weeks working directly with people in poverty.  About one-third of those internships each summer are conducted at service agencies in the Greenville area, while the rest are spread throughout the United States and internationally.

“We extend thanks and gratitude to Alec and Susan for this transformational gift to a program that speaks to the heart of Furman’s mission,” said president Elizabeth Davis. “Our goal is more than simply the awarding of degrees; we want our community to be fully engaged with the world at-large, to provide leadership where the needs are greatest. The Taylors’ generosity recognizes this aim, and ensures that the critical internship experience—which puts our students on the front lines—will continue to thrive.”

According to Dr. David Gandolfo, associate professor of philosophy and chair of Poverty Studies, the student interest in the program has been growing exponentially since it was founded six years ago.  Gandolfo expects the program to plateau at about 100 students, with 25 to 30 students engaged in internships each summer.

“Some people found the high level of student interest in Poverty Studies to be surprising, but I didn’t,” Gandolfo said.  “There are a small number of defining challenges confronting our era, and solving poverty is one of them.  Our students are excited to be involved in that challenge, both with their hearts and minds.  This generous gift from Alec and Susan Taylor puts the program on solid ground, ensuring that it will be around for the long struggle against poverty, and allows us to continue to offer our students a profound internship experience.”

Alec Taylor retired in June 2014 as chairman and CEO of FGX International, the world's leading designer and marketer of non-prescription reading glasses and sunglasses.  Prior to joining FGX in 2005, he was president and chief operating officer of Chattem, Inc., a publicly traded consumer products company.

He also spent 20 years as an attorney in the law firm of Miller & Martin LLP in Chattanooga, including a role as partner from 1983 to 1998. He received his J.D. from Vanderbilt University School of Law after graduating from Furman. He also serves as a trustee of Charleston Collegiate School and is an adjunct professor at the Charleston School of Law.

Susan Shulman Taylor is a graduate of East Tennessee State University and a longtime community volunteer working as a child advocate and in her children’s schools.  Together, she and Alec have five children and ten grandchildren and have been foster parents in Tennessee and Rhode Island.